Freedom Works talks to workingmums.co.uk about how they pivoted to business support during Covid and are now looking to expand as more people opt to work remotely.
You’d think a flexible office space provider may have fared badly during Covid as people were sent home to work, but Freedom Works, which is based along the south coast, says that, while it has been challenging, the company has been able to adapt and is now looking to a future of increased opportunities.
Freedom Works is a flexible office space provider which is celebrating its sixth year. Its first office was in Worthing, but it now has spaces in Hove, Chichester, Southampton and Gatwick and will open its second Worthing space in September as well as another space in Lancing. There are further plans for two other new sites in the Hastings and Reigate area.
However, the last year has been more about survival than growth. When Covid hit it had to pivot immediately towards providing its 2.5K members with business support. That meant sourcing and advising members on Additional Restrictions Grants and other support. Freedom Works secured around 800,000 pounds in ARG grants for members, helping them to stay afloat during Covid.
“A large part of our work involved getting as much financial support to our members to ensure they survived,” says Charis Wells, Head of Operations, much of whose role during Covid has been to keep businesses up to date with the latest government guidance around Covid safety and about everything related to returning to the office, including risk assessments and health and safety.
Freedom Works’ USP is its focus on creating community. “It’s not just about providing a roof and office. It’s very much about that community aspect,” says Wells. Support includes helping sole traders to grow and providing training – which is provided free as part of the membership terms.
Wells says the company was able to react rapidly and was also able to prepare its own spaces to be Covid-friendly from May 2020 onwards, given that some people found working from home impossible. Wells mentions parents whose job involves making lots of calls which was difficult with small children being around. “Coming into our spaces for a couple of hours of quiet helped them a lot,” she states. In addition to hand sanitisers, social distancing signage and the like, the company brought in a new booking system so they knew where everyone was.
“People were really excited to come back in and see other people and we were there with a cup of tea,” says Wells, who adds that it wasn’t just office people who were using the spaces, but also people who normally worked remotely but had trouble doing it with children around.
Now with Covid restrictions easing, Freedom Works is looking towards the future. Wells says the pandemic has accelerated conversations about flexible working and the consequences for offices. “People don’t want long-term leases. People who are working from home may need to work in the office a couple of days a month. Employers don’t need a bricks and mortar office on a five-year term,” she says.
She adds that having a flexible meeting and working space offers the social element that many homeworkers have been missing over the last year as well as a professional setting where people can pool resources. Before Covid Freedom Works organised shared lunches and Mario Kart tournaments which could all come back. It also encourages those using its spaces to interact. Who knows, says Wells? Talking to someone from another business who is sharing the same space could lead to new business leads.
The focus this year will be on building relationships, she adds. Over the last year the company has hired a dedicated Head of Communities person to support its members and liaise with the wider community in which each Freedom Works space is embedded, for instance, they are thinking about organising events for non-members and business to business networking events. They have already launched virtual lunch and learn events on everything from using social media to addressing cashflow and are seeking members’ views on what they would find useful.
Freedom Works has always focused on provincial towns rather than the big urban centres. With more people moving out of urban areas and forgoing long commutes, Wells says the company is getting a lot of inquiries from larger employers who have a cluster of workers in a certain area and need a hub office where they can meet on a flexible basis. “Those conversations didn’t exist 18 months ago,” she comments.